African researchers have time and time again lamented the power dynamics that undervalue their contributions. North-South collaboration is meant to be an opportunity to bring in funds, expertise, and resources for conducting research in low-income countries. But the perception of the Global South’s science needing the assistance and validation of the Global North has created an imbalanced collaboration dynamic.
It starts with how initiatives fund research projects in favour of the Global North despite the majority of the work, especially for diseases and issues endemic to Africa being conducted by local personnel.
In 2021 a prime case of ‘scientific colonialism’ came about when the United States announced that it had chosen non-profit organisation PATH to lead a five-year US$30 million Malaria project. As the project dubbed President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Insights for Malaria (INFORM) project or PMI INFORM rolled out not only were there clear similarities to Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Wellcome’s INFORM project according to SciDev.Net but the project partners were all from the Global North.
These instances where African researchers and institutions are overlooked, when they are responsible for crucial operational design and implementation as well as the interrogation and quantification of local knowledge are commonplace.
Ngozi Erondu, a senior research fellow at the UK-based Chatham House Centre for Global Health Security, told the publication, “The bigger issue here is decolonising global health… Collaboration doesn’t mean you win all the money and employ the global South [partner]. That’s scientific colonialism,” she lamented.
Another year another 30 million grant to "help" #Africans do something that they were already doing. @PATHtweets and @PMIgov launch a "global" project to advance the use of new tools to fight #malaria,
But none of the partners listed are from African institutions. Seriously?!? pic.twitter.com/Qz5eUQSDfI
— Ngozi (@udnore) February 1, 2021
African researchers are continuously dealing with this unfair trend and the broken state of international development research collaboration. The North-South relationship is rife with unjust employment terms, including accelerated working periods without benefits, recognition, and commensurate pay.
Action towards equitable collaboration
In the interest of building African research and promoting integrity, equity, and fairness in research collaboration, Senior Executive Editor Sabine Kleinert announced that The Lancet will not publish papers with data from Africa that fail to acknowledge African collaborators.
“We are now rejecting such papers because when you bring us such a paper you probably had a local researcher collecting data for you or you ‘helicoptered’ to Africa, but you chose not to recognise them, which is not acceptable.”
Global South researchers experience a host of challenges, such as an invisible “double role,” detailed in a 2020 paper on Namibian-German climate research projects where local researchers manage field work, analytical tasks, and cultural facilitators.
African researchers are continuously dealing with this unfair trend and the broken state of international development research collaboration
They also cannot attain the ‘tyranny of the impact factor’ a career-defining number attained from publishing in high-impact journals. Then there are predatory publishers, prohibitive costs, and a lack of familiarity with the peer-review process steeped in systemic bias. The latter includes a lack of African representation among peer reviewers, as well as language and style barriers that impede the publishing of valuable research.
Practices that reject exploitative practices and strengthen global research capacities, reinforce the entire health system and improve the health of populations. Proper recognition, adequate reward systems, and the emergence of new collaborative relationships are fundamental to achieving equitable development research.